From training Exercise to a real incident: The Chinook Crash Mull Of Kintyre.
2 June 1994. – Twenty Years ago tomorrow and this story is still as vivid as it was when it happened. It started as an unreal day I was stationed at RAF Kinloss in Morayshire I had just stood down as the Full time RAF Mountain Rescue Team Leader and after a short break I was back on the Mountain Rescue team. It was good as I was again a Team member and not the leader a great deal of pressure was gone and I was back in my trade running an office what a change from a full –time Team leader. The station in these days had Exercise this was 1994 and old habits the Cold War meant that we trained for war and the RAF Station shut down for 3 days as we played war. It was a very busy time and as a Caterer (my real job) the station was on 12 hour shifts for 3-4 days. It was always and awful time as much was concerned with the station being attacked at the end and various awful scenarios that could occur. Most of us had to go into hardened shelters, practice using gas masks etc, generally an awful time for all. On this exercise we had we had practiced an aircraft crash on the airfield and just finished it when we were told of real crash at the Mull Of Kintyre. As usual the top brass in the Station were in charge and it was the usual chaos but as always the RAF MRT were in their element and it was soon sorted with the Team being told to stand down and leave it to the other services on the station to learn. It is so easy dealing with a scenario near the station or on it but away in a remote area another world. This is what the RAF MRT is for and we had many veterans of difficult aircraft crashes and incidents in our team at the team The weather was great it was early June and the whole team was available, the pagers and Tannoy blared out and I was at the MRT Section within a few minutes. The Team Leader Jim Smith said that it was a possible helicopter Crash on the Mull Of Kintyre and a Sea King helicopter was inbound in 5 minutes to pick up a “fast party” The Mull Of Kintyre is a remote area in the West Coast of Scotland and a long way off. I did not expect to get on the helicopter and the 5 /10 minutes is not long to sort out your world but I was told I was going. I was to be one of the “fast party “they were a very experienced group 6 team members plus the Team Leader that went on the aircraft. The rest of the team another 20 would follow by road a long journey 5- 6 hours away! It was not long after 1800 when we were called and we were away very quickly.
Arriving at the Lighthouse loaded and wondering what we would find. The mist is clearly visible. Photo David Whalley.
Jim Smith was the Team Leader he had only recently handed over to me and once you are in the back of a helicopter it is a different world. In the back it is noisy and even in the summer the aircraft is dark and busy with the crew all working hard, it is incredible to watch. Add to that it was a possible military aircraft crash they crew do not hang about. The flight about an hour from Kinloss was so fast we hammered across the mountains. I remember flashing by Ben Alder and heading low and fast to the Mull. The information was scant and even though it had just happened more was coming all the time. In the back of the aircraft you feel out of it but then a scrap of paper appears and we were told it was a military helicopter a Chinook with a lot of passengers. There are a few people who ask you what do you think off as you are in the helicopter? My thought was a lot of casualties the Chinook is a big helicopter and there may be multi –casualties? How would we cope?
As we neared the Mull Of Kintyre the mist was down and the helicopter could only land at the lighthouse landing site in thick mist. It was too difficult to try to get us further up the hill. We could hear the emergency beacons going off in our aircraft just before we landed in a swirling mist right by the lighthouse. Information was very scant but the beacons were a bad sign and we had to get in quick. We were carrying large trauma/ first aid bags plus our kit and as soon as we landed we had a quick get together. We had the very basic P.P.I. gear with us masks and other paraphernalia but as we had a trudge about half a kilometer up to the crash site we decided to move fast and not wear it.
As we left I was worried this was a big incident there were 29 on the aircraft I was praying some would have survived. As we got nearer the smell of fuel and smoke was everywhere as was wreckage and the fires were burning. I said to Kim and Andy please keep an eye on me this is too like Lockerbie for me! The smoke and fire were so similar.
We arrived at the scene the helicopter was a crumpled mess fires and smoke made the place like out of a war scene and we split up to locate the crew a grim job, with the aircraft still burning and banging scene from a movie but this was real life. There were a few locals but they were shell-shocked and were glad we had arrived. They had done their best but by their faces they just were glad we were there. It is so important to account for all the passengers and crew and we doubled up and raced round the site. There was little we could do all the crew were dead and the crash site was very dangerous, sharp wreckage, fires, smoke and trauma. We located all the 29 and then updated Jim the Team Leader and all we could do now was secure the site and wait for the emergency services. The trauma and dangers about at such a place make it very dangerous, there were a few live weapons about and lots of personal belongings danger and trauma was everywhere. The aircraft had been carrying some of the cream of the military, police and civilian anti-terrorist experts to a Conference in Fort George in Inverness and the security implications were to be massive. It would be a difficult few days ahead for everyone? I hoped I would cope.
To be continued: